Durban - While businesses have been feeling the pinch of stage 6 load shedding, Agri SA has raised concern that rolling blackouts will negatively affect farming operations and production.
Christo van der Rheede, the executive director of Agri SA, said the impact of the power outages on the agricultural sector and the wider economy held serious implications for food security and social stability.
“The extended period of level 6 load shedding threatens the viability of the sector. An escalation to level 7 and higher would be catastrophic and would pose a risk to the country’s national security.”
Van der Rheede said that electricity was central to modern farming practices, and the recent increase in load shedding had seriously disrupted farming operations.
“Pumping stations, irrigation, cooling and other systems all depend on power supply. While some farmers have the means to move away from the power grid, most are unable to do so. This is especially true for the most vulnerable small-scale farmers. Farmers forfeit their water quotas for irrigation purposes when the power is off – an irrecoverable loss that paralyses farms.”
Professor Bonke Dumisa, an independent economic analyst, said load shedding affected everything, and the agriculture industry had not been spared.
“We notice how businesses in the manufacturing industry are severely affected by load shedding as operations have to stop for that time period. However, farmers are affected just as much as they also need electricity for their operations. The unfortunate thing is that we rely heavily on farmers for food in South Africa and they need uninterrupted electricity.”
Dumisa said he hoped that now that an agreement had been reached between Eskom and workers over a wage increase, load shedding would be reduced.
“The fact is that load shedding is not going anywhere, but we hope for the best that with workers returning to work there won’t be any sabotage of operations, and hopefully we’ll see load shedding easing.”
Professor Irrshad Kaseeram, of the University of Zululand’s Economics Department, said the impact of power cuts due to load shedding was enormous.
“When we look at agribusinesses, they have to export products from South Africa, and whenever there is load shedding there are bound to be delays with delivery and that will result in loss of income and penalties, and will ultimately have an impact on the South African economy.”
Kaseeram added that continuous load shedding and the move to stage 6 load shedding had profound negative consequences for the economy.
“When agribusinesses suffer losses, they are going to be forced to decrease the number of employees, which will create more unemployment. If there are delays with business operations, international countries will look to do business with other countries.”
Dr Siyabonga Madlala, the South African Farmers’ Development Association chairperson, said that load shedding may have an impact on inflation in South Africa, which is mainly measured by exchange rate and agricultural prices.
“Agricultural prices do affect the inflation rate significantly. The increase in agricultural prices may result in an increase in the inflation rate.”